Some Last-Minute Online Shoppers Can Still Put Gifts Under the Tree

Still not done shopping, and don’t have time to go to the mall?

Christmas-presents-cropIf so, you’re in luck. There are a handful of options for getting packages delivered in time for Christmas, especially if you live in one of the markets where retailers are testing same-day delivery services.

In case you didn’t already know, today was pretty much the deadline for consumers to place orders online and to reasonably expect their packages to arrive on time. For example, Sears, Nordstrom, Macy’s, Walmart and even Amazon stopped offering rush shipping this afternoon on most orders.

As I previously reported, last week was the peak for e-commerce spending, and this year that shouldn’t be any different. But there are a number of ways to still get deliveries sent to your home if you don’t feel like fighting the crowds at the mall.

Amazon is promising on-time deliveries for some orders placed on Saturday and Sunday for some items in select cities. But it won’t be free. For those with Amazon Prime, it will cost $4 and up — on top of the $79 you pay every year to be a member.

Then there’s same-day delivery. Though the services are being characterized as tests, these merchants are trying to see if it can be economical to deliver items that are kept locally at stores (and not at distant warehouses) to homes within a few hours. It’s clearly another strategy for brick-and-mortar retailers to try to compete with e-tailers that offer the convenience of delivery.

Two of the major trials are being conducted by eBay and Walmart.

EBay’s service is called eBay Now. Consumers can place orders from a mobile app that will deliver goods to you at your home, in a park, even at a bar, within about an hour. The company is working with a number of local retailers on the service, including Target, Best Buy, Nordstrom, Toys “R” Us and Bloomingdales.

According to an eBay spokeswoman, eBay Now will be available from 9 am to 6 pm (local time) on Christmas Eve, but closed on Christmas Day. The service is currently being tested in San Francisco and parts of New York City.

Walmart is another retailer that is testing same-day delivery. The “Walmart to Go” service allows customers in a handful of markets to buy and receive items on the same day for $10. Inventory is limited to popular items, including toys, electronics, sporting goods and other gifts. The service is in Northern Virginia, Philadelphia, Minneapolis, the San Jose-San Francisco Bay Area and Denver.

Walmart will be offering same-day delivery until Dec. 23, but will be closed on Dec. 24 and 25. It will resume on Dec. 26.

There are smaller alternatives, too.

For example, TaskRabbit is a marketplace where you can find people who are willing to complete small projects or services for a fee. The service operates in a number of major markets around the country, and due to its independent nature, a spokesman claims, “The Web site and iPhone app are never closed.”

In fact, once a “rabbit” has received a background check and activated, “they can work when they want, and not when they don’t.” Popular tasks this month include holiday shopping, which is averaging $57; gift wrapping, $38; and hanging lights, $85. If that sounds exorbitant, remember that consumers should expect to pay a premium on holidays.

Finally, another service in San Francisco is Postmates, which is offering same-day delivery by dispatching a nearby courier to run an errand. A spokeswoman confirmed that it is operating on Christmas Eve from 8 am to 6 pm, and on Christmas Day from 11 am to midnight.

Additionally, as part of the iPhone app, Postmates is creating a shopping guide that lists major retailers where last-minute purchases can be made, including the likes of Apple, Tiffany, Uniqlo and Nordstrom.

While there seem to be a lot of last-minute options, Forrester Research analyst Sucharita Mulpuru said that this year is no different from other years in at least one sense. Retailers, and especially e-commerce companies, are always trying to push the limits when it comes to how late orders can be placed.

“It does drive a spike in sales as you approach the shipping deadline. I’d estimate a 20 percent lift on that day over an average holiday day, but by no means would it eclipse the Thanksgiving weekend or Cyber Monday,” she said.

Of course, if you miss all of these options, there are always gift cards. And there’s still the local mall.

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I think the NSA has a job to do and we need the NSA. But as (physicist) Robert Oppenheimer said, “When you see something that is technically sweet, you go ahead and do it and argue about what to do about it only after you’ve had your technical success. That is the way it was with the atomic bomb.”

— Phil Zimmerman, PGP inventor and Silent Circle co-founder, in an interview with Om Malik